Taking medication on time is essential for managing health conditions, from high blood pressure and diabetes to heart disease and cancer. When medication is not taken as prescribed, it can lead to negative health outcomes such as disease progression, hospitalisation, and even death. Medication non-adherence is also a significant burden on the healthcare system, resulting in increased healthcare costs and decreased quality of life for patients.

Medication adherence is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) “as the degree to which the person's behaviour corresponds with the agreed recommendations from a healthcare professional”.

Why are older adults unable to take their medicines on time?

Medication non-adherence in older adults is a prevalent problem among older adults. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, around 50% of older adults do not take their medication as prescribed. This can be due to a variety of factors;

Unable to remember or understand

  • Forgetfulness: Older adults may simply forget to take their medication or forget whether they have already taken it.
  • Difficulty understanding medication instructions: Older adults may have difficulty understanding complex medication instructions or medical terminology.
  • Confusion about medication schedule: Older adults may find it confusing to keep track of multiple medications with different dosing schedules.

Too many medicines to manage

For older adults who are taking multiple medications, the number of medications, frequency of dosing, different medication forms, and confusing medication schedules can make it challenging to keep track of medication use.

Adult sitting on chair

Physical limitations

  • Difficulty opening medication containers: Arthritis or other conditions can make it hard for older adults to open medication bottles or blister packs.
  • Limited dexterity: Older adults with arthritis or other conditions may have difficulty handling medication, particularly if the pills are small.
  • Vision problems: Older adults with poor eyesight may have difficulty reading medication labels or distinguishing between different pills.

Fears, Opinions and Anxiety

Psychological factors can also affect medication adherence in older adults. These can include:

  • Fear of side effects: Older adults may be afraid of experiencing side effects from their medication, particularly if they have had negative experiences with medication in the past.
  • Negative beliefs about medication: Older adults may have negative beliefs about medication or the healthcare system in general, leading them to be less likely to take their medication.
  • Depression and anxiety: Older adults with depression or anxiety may have difficulty adhering to their medication regimen due to low motivation or difficulty with daily routines.

High cost and inaccessibility

  • Cost of medication: The high cost of medication may make it difficult for some older adults to afford their medication, leading them to cut back on their dosage or skip doses altogether.
  • Limited access to healthcare: Older adults who do not have regular access to healthcare may not receive regular medication management support or have difficulty obtaining medication refills.
  • Language barriers: Older adults who do not speak English may have difficulty understanding

Are your elderly parents skipping Medications? Know the Consequences of Medication Non Adherence


Ways to Improve Medication Adherence

Despite the many barriers to medication adherence faced by older adults, there are several strategies that can be used to improve medication management. 

  • Medication reminders apps (PCL Connect) can help ensure that medication is taken on time. 
  • Simplifying medication schedules and using pill organisers, dosette boxes or other assistive devices can also be helpful. 
  • Additionally, involving caregivers or family members in medication management and communicating with healthcare providers can help ensure that medication use is properly managed.
  • It is important for the patients and their family to ask questions to the clinicians about the medication dosage, side effects and other relevant information to
  • Leveraging technology for medication management, such as telehealth or remote monitoring, can also be useful.

Check out more ways to improve medication management for older adults in detail.


Medication non-adherence is a significant problem among older adults, with several barriers contributing to the issue. By addressing the barriers to medication adherence, older adults can better manage their health and prevent negative health outcomes.

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.